Our local music teacher’s association (FWMTA) hosted a pedagogy masterclass with Dr. Catharine Lysinger this past Saturday.  This was a fabulous event and I took away so many teaching tips that I thought I’d share with our readers here.  If you’re not familiar with the format of a pedagogy masterclass, here’s the gist:

  1. A student performs a piece – any level, at any stage of learning, does not have to be totally performance ready
  2. A teacher works with that student as they would in a lesson
  3. A master teacher analyzes what the teacher said/did, and discusses how they could improve their approach

Dr. Lysinger has a stunning resume (read it here), is an accomplished performer, teacher, and teacher of teachers!  She teaches students of all levels and is very down to earth and approachable.  Here’s some things I took note of during the masterclass:

  • Cut to the chase – Lesson time is limited, be specific and don’t dance around the issue!  Label exactly what you heard and what you want to be different.  Be concrete and tell the student exactly what to fix and how to fix it.  If the rhythm was incorrect, tell the student!  Don’t talk around the problem.
  • Start with the basics – She uses the acronym NRFAD for the basic foundation of a piece.  Notes, rhythm, fingerings, articulation, and dynamics.  These music all be learned and focused on first.  Once the foundation is there you can move on to NRFAD+ which includes phrasing, musicality, pedaling, timing, etc.
  • Don’t underutilize your own musical abilities – Hopefully we can all play better than our students, use this to your advantage!  Demonstrate musicality, have the student imitate what you play.  Study how you play and create the sounds that you want and teach your student how to duplicate that.
  • Be persistent about the important things – Dr. Lysinger addressed hand position and said “you may have to work on this in every lesson for 3 years” and mentioned that you may have to work on a steady tempo for 10 years!  We are building musicians long-term.  Don’t expect it all to be fixed right away and don’t give up quickly.
  • Move around in your lessons – Often she would point out something about a student’s posture or hand position and say “If you were sitting over here you probably would have noticed…”.  Dr. Lysinger knelt on the floor beside students to prompt them to raise their wrists when playing, she bent down under that piano to watch a student’s pedaling.  You have to be active and move while you are teaching, piano is physical and you need to be able to see what is going on!

There were so many more good take-aways, but there were the biggest ones that stuck out to me.  She also said several times:

If you assign a student a piece of music, your expectation should be that they can play it as beautifully as you.

I loved this idea.  If you don’t expect that a student can fully execute a piece and play it beautifully, you shouldn’t assign it.  Set students up for success.  And another question to ask ourselves each lesson:

What am I giving this child right now that will make them play better and differently next week?

It is always valuable to analyze our own teaching and see what we can do better, what a great reminder to me!

Author: Spring

Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.